For the city mouse accustomed to the traffic and congestion of urban (and suburban) driving, escaping to the country can provide a much-needed reprieve. But don’t let the beautiful scenery lull you to laziness: driving on rural roads requires just as much attention as city driving. In fact, the NHTSA estimates that the fatality rate from car accidents in rural areas is actually 2.4 times greater than in urban ones. For Part 3 of our “Driving in Unfamiliar Places” series, check out 5 tips for safer rural driving.
1. Watch your speed
Unlike urban or suburban roads, rural roads aren’t frequently slowed by traffic signals, stop signs, and everyday traffic. Speeding can have disastrous consequences on country roads, which are more likely to have soft shoulders, undivided lanes, and uneven terrain than their urban counterparts. Be sure to adjust your speed and be mindful of road conditions.
2. Prep for unpaved road surfaces
Sometimes the road less traveled is paved … and other times it’s paved with gravel, sand, or plain old dirt. Do some research before you leave to see if you’ll be driving on any unpaved stretches of road (or driveway). If it looks like you will, go slowly, watch out for loose surfaces, be mindful of your car’s undercarriage clearance, and follow these driving tips.
3. Be ready for night driving
Night driving requires a certain amount of caution wherever you are, but it can be much more challenging on rural roads where there are fewer street lamps and reflective elements to keep you on course. If you must drive at night, take caution, use your headlights (being mindful of high beam use — they can blind oncoming drivers), and dim your dashboard lights. Dimming the dashboard lights can help minimize distracting reflections and help your forward vision. Fog lights can also be helpful in low-light driving situations (fog lights are positioned lower on your car to help you see the road in front of you). Lastly, remember never to drive drowsy. It’s important to be well rested before getting behind the wheel, especially at night.
4. Look out for wildlife
According to statistics collected by the Federal Highway Administration, the quantity of animal-car collisions is significantly greater on rural versus urban roadways, with the greatest number of crashes happening in early morning (4 to 6 a.m.) or late at night (6 to 11 p.m.). Drive cautiously, especially during peak animal activity hours, and familiarize yourself with defensive driving behaviors that can help you react in the moment (like what to do if you’re about to hit a deer).
5. Have a GPS backup plan
Road signage and cellular connectivity can be hit-and-miss once you get into the country, so be sure you have a means of navigating that’s not entirely reliant on your phone’s connectivity. Many of today’s driving apps offer a feature that lets you download maps that work without cell service. Paper maps are great too. No matter how you do it, try to familiarize yourself with your route before you set out on your drive.
For more tips on what to do before you leave for your road trip and how to safely navigate an unfamiliar city, make sure you catch up with Part 1 and Part 2 of our “Driving in Unfamiliar Places” series. Then, check out Part 4, where we tackle driving abroad.